Washington, DC – People For the American Way today commended President Obama for nominating three qualified Pennsylvanians to seats on the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania. The three nominees, Nitza I. Quiñones Alejandro, Luis Felipe Restrepo, and Jeffrey L. Schmehl, continue the gender and ethnic diversity that President Obama has brought to the federal courts. Two of the three are of Hispanic heritage, and one, Quiñones, would become the first openly gay Hispanic federal judge. Notably, the professional diversity of these nominees is also significant. Restrepo’s and Schmehl’s professional careers include time as public defenders and Quiñones’s background includes work with a community legal services program.
“These nominees are emblematic of the president’s commitment to nominating qualified, diverse nominees to the federal bench,” said Marge Baker of People For the American Way. “They are also a sign of the president’s commitment to solving the vacancy crisis in our federal courts without delay. One week after his reelection, the president nominated seven Americans to fill district and circuit court vacancies. Today, he has taken an important step in tackling the longstanding vacancy crisis in Pennsylvania.”
Pennsylvania’s federal courts currently have eight vacancies. Two nominees for seats considered “judicial emergencies” have been waiting over four months for confirmation votes from the Senate, despite the stated support of their home-state senators.
“It took far too long for Quiñones, Restrepo and Schmehl to be nominated for long-vacant seats on Pennsylvania’s courts, through the process set up by Senators Casey and Toomey,” added Baker. “And there are still three vacancies on the Eastern District yet to be filled. It is critical that the senators act expeditiously to send recommendations to the White House for these three remaining seats so that Pennsylvanians have access to fully functioning federal courts. It is also taking far too long for the Senate to confirm the two pending Pennsylvania Middle District nominees, because of obstruction by Senate Republicans. Sen. Toomey must stand up to his Republican leadership and urge them to allow confirmation votes on the 19 nominees who have spent as long as eight months languishing on the Senate floor.”
You can play a big role in spreading the word about why a Mitt Romney presidency - and the prospect of Mitt Romney appointing Supreme Court justices -- would be dangerous for America.
How? By writing a letter to the editor of your local newspaper. Letters to the editor are extremely effective because voters trust people in their own communities. And newspapers want to hear from you about what matters.
Be sure to give your name, address and a phone number with your letter. For those submitted via e-mail, the subject line should read “Letter to the Editor.” For letters submitted via regular mail, they should say “Attn: Editor.” Before a letter is printed, a member of the newspaper staff may give you a call.
Letters shouldn’t be much more than 200-300 words. Short and to-the-point letters are the most effective.
It is important that you use your own words when writing a letter to the editor. But, here are a few points you will probably want to make:
After you send your letter, please e-mail People For the American Way Pennsylvania Coordinator Jodi Hirsh at firstname.lastname@example.org and let us know you did. This will help us track our progress in getting our message out. And if you'd like, include the text of your letter and your name and hometown.
Below is a list of Pennsylvania newspapers and how to submit a letter. Election Day is approaching fast -- and people are already voting -- so please send in a letter to the editor today!
In March, Pennsylvania’s governor signed one of the most restrictive voter ID laws in the country. One study estimated that the law could impose extra burdens on 700,000 Pennsylvania voters, disproportionately affecting the poor, minorities, students and the elderly.
Andrew Cohen at The Atlantic writes today about one Pennsylvanian in her 80s who is struggling to keep her right to vote, sixty years after casting her first vote for Adlai Stevenson. Cohen quotes a letter that Robin Kane wrote to the voter ID law’s sponsor about her efforts to help her elderly mother, Jaqueline, register to vote in Pennsylvania:
For the past two weeks, my sister and I have been trying to help my mother gather the appropriate documents to get the newly required photo ID. The education campaign had inaccurate information and the rules keep shifting, making it difficult for me to understand and it would have been impossible for my elderly mother to do this without assistance.
First, VotesPA and PennDOT websites said she would need to get a non-driver's photo license. To do so, she would need her social security card; an original birth certificate with a raised seal; two proofs of residency; an application; and an oath that she had no other form of ID. My sister and mother spent two days looking for her birth certificate from 1930. They found my dead grandmother's birth certificate, plus ration cards from World War II, and lots of documents of my father's service during that war. But not her birth certificate.
I returned to the websites to learn that even without a birth certificate, she might be able to get the photo ID if the state Department of Health could confirm her birth. However, my mother was born in NY, not Pennsylvania. So, it turned out, this solution didn't apply to her. Instead, I was directed to seek a new birth certificate from the state of New York. Just when I thought we couldn't possibly get this done in time for her to vote, I learned that there is a new option for people exactly like my mom: the new, Department of State photo id for voting.
It still requires her to have her a social security card or number (which we found); proof of residency; an application; and an oath. And it still requires that my 82-year-old mother will travel by bus to a PennDOT office and hope that she has the stamina to wait in multiple lines to complete the process to get a photo ID that she needs for only this one purpose, ever. But she is determined to do so, if she is able. And she will vote against anyone who sided with you in this effort to suppress legitimate votes.
What this really means is that Jacqueline Kane is one of the lucky ones. She has a family that has the means to be able to help her in this fashion. But think of all the other elderly people out there, who won't have a health aid with them, or who don't have access to a bus, or who don't live in elder-care facilities where such opportunities exist. Those people aren't lazy, either. And yet they clearly face disenfranchisement if this law is permitted to stay in effect.
While Kane and countless others in Pennsylvania struggle to meet the voter ID requirement before election day, it’s still unclear whether the law will take effect in November. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court recently returned a challenge to the law to a lower court, ordering the lower court to halt the law if it’s not convinced the voter ID requirements won’t disenfranchise anybody.
Mitt Romney’s Scalia-filled Supreme Court took to the streets again this week, this time in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Following a successful Romney Court event in Columbus, Ohio, the Romney Court campaign, led in PA by People For the American Way’s Jodi Hirsh, revealed its Scalia-filled Supreme Court in Market Square to inform voters about the dangers of having Mitt Romney nominate Supreme Court justices for lifetime terms.
Philadelphia, Penn. – Pennsylvania members of People For the American Way Foundation’s African American Ministers Leadership Council cautiously praised a Pennsylvania Supreme Court decision today that could prevent a suppressive voter ID law from taking effect before November. The state Supreme Court ordered a lower court that had previously refused to block the law to reconsider that ruling, encouraging it to issue an injunction if the state cannot show that the law will not disenfranchise any voters.
“Pennsylvania’s voter ID law was intended to suppress the vote, and will have the effect if it is allowed to go forward in November,” said Rev. Michael Couch of Berachah Baptist Church in Philadelphia, a member of the African American Ministers Leadership Council. “Although I believe there was more than enough evidence for the Supreme Court to issue an injunction without this extra step, the decision to send the case back to the Commonwealth Court is tentatively encouraging. Our courts must consider the real impact this law will have on Pennsylvanians trying to vote in November.”
People For the American Way Foundation’s African American Ministers Leadership Council, founded in 1997, works nationwide to help bring African Americans to the polls through the non-partisan “I Am A VESSEL and I Vote!” program.
Along with the parade of Republican officials and Tea Party favorites like Gov. Scott Walker and Ted Cruz, two darlings of the Religious Right will be speaking tonight during the Republican National Convention:
Gov. Bob McDonnell of Virginia chaired the 2012 RNC platform committee, which a committee member described as “the most conservative platform in modern history.” McDonnell, known to many as Governor Ultrasound for his support of the “vaginal probe” law, is the most prominent graduate of Pat Robertson’s foray into higher education – Christian Broadcasting Network University, now called Regent.
As a student there, McDonnell authored a 93-page thesis – “The Republican Party's Vision for the Family” – which served as a blueprint for a Religious Right version of America. In it, he characterized “working women and feminists as 'detrimental' to the family” and argued that the government “should favor married couples over 'cohabitators, homosexuals or fornicators.” McDonnell disavowed his thesis when he ran for governor, but the Washington Post noted that as a legislator he “pursued at least 10 of the policy goals he laid out” in his thesis. Not surprisingly, Pat Robertson donated to McDonnell’s gubernatorial campaign and hosted him on the 700 Club, referring to him as his “dear friend.”
To: Interested Parties
From: Jodi Hirsh, People For the American Way of Pennsylvania
Re: Senator Toomey Can Help Get Pennsylvania’s Judicial Nominees Confirmed by Encouraging his Republican Colleagues To Cooperate
Last month, the Senate Judiciary Committee approved two nominees to fill two long-vacant seats in Pennsylvania’s federal courts. Each has broad bipartisan support and is strongly supported by both Sens. Casey and Toomey. Yet over four weeks later, neither has received a vote from the full Senate. Sen. Pat Toomey has recently urged their prompt confirmation, correctly stating that “The one thing standing between the confirmation and these two gentlemen putting on the robes and serving, is a vote on the Senate floor.” That’s true. And he says he will push for a floor vote in September. That’s good.
But in addition to making statements he needs to press members of his own party for action.
In fact it is Senate Republicans, including Sen. Toomey, who have systematically slow-walked nearly every judicial nomination that President Obama has made. Confirmed district court nominees under President Bush at this point in his presidency waited on average just 33 days from committee approval to a vote from the full Senate. In contrast, district court nominees under President Obama have waited an average of 96 days, or three times as long. This is not because Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid refuses to schedule votes. It is because Reid can’t schedule a vote without the minority party’s consent, and that consent has routinely been denied even for nominees with strong bipartisan support like the two pending in Pennsylvania, just one of the many stalling tactics they have used to keep President Obama’s nominees off the courts
Pennsylvania nominees Matthew Brann of Canton and Malachy Mannion of Scott Township are not alone in waiting for Senate votes. There are now 22 judicial nominees who have been approved by the Judiciary Committee and who are waiting for a simple up-or-down vote from the Senate. Nineteen were approved by the Judiciary Committee with strong bipartisan support. Seven of these have been waiting since April or earlier for a vote. A third of these are women and people of color, nominees who would help diversify the federal bench. And most have been waiting for a Senate vote far longer than Mannion and Brann.
After the Judiciary Committee vets a nominee, especially a consensus nominee like most of the ones now pending, the Senate should quickly cast a yes-or-no vote. There is no legitimate reason for delay. In past administrations, we have seen multiple confirmation votes per week. But since May, Senate Republicans have allowed only one a week. There is no reason for this but partisan obstruction, pure and simple. Rather than being toward the bottom of a list of 22 nominees, Brann and Mannion should be at the top of much smaller list composed only of the few nominees approved by the committee in late July and early August, with the full expectation of confirmation on the day the Senate returns from recess.
For Mannion and Brann to have a realistic chance of being confirmed this fall, Senator Toomey will need to talk to his fellow Republicans – especially Minority Leader Mitch McConnell – and demand votes not only for Pennsylvania’s nominees, but for all of the many district court nominees ahead of them in line. Until those other nominees get votes, two courtrooms in Pennsylvania’s Middle District will remain empty.
Philadelphia, PA – A coalition of African American pastors spoke out today against a state judge’s refusal to halt the implementation of Pennsylvania’s new voter ID law, a move that could put low-income, elderly, minority and student voters at risk of disenfranchisement in November’s election.
Members of the African American Ministers Leadership Council, a program of People For the American Way Foundation, said that the decision not to stay the voter ID law could suppress the votes of those who have traditionally struggled to exercise their right to vote.
“The purpose of this law has been clear from the beginning,” said Rev. Michael Couch of Berachah Baptist Church in Philadelphia. “It was meant to keep African Americans, students, and other traditionally suppressed communities from exercising our hard-won right to vote. Even the law’s supporters have admitted that there is absolutely no evidence of in-person voter fraud in Pennsylvania. Instead, this law is a purely political attempt to disenfranchise citizens who have every right to vote. I am dismayed at today’s decision and hope that as this case moves through the courts, our judges recognize the ugly intent and real consequences of voter ID.”
The African American Ministers Leadership Council, founded in 1997, has been working nationwide to help bring African Americans to the polls in every election, most recently through the newly-launched non-partisan “I Am A VESSEL and I Vote!” program.
PFAW Activists Rally Outside Romney Headquarters in Greentree, PA
Yesterday marked the 3rd anniversary of Sonia Sotomayor officially assuming her office as Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States. People for the American Way, in partnership with other progressive organizations including NARAL and the AFL-CIO, marked the occasion with activists on the ground in the key states of Ohio and Pennsylvania.
At a campaign event in Colorado yesterday, President Obama underscored the importance of the election for its impact on the future of the court.
Today is the three-year anniversary of Sonia Sotomayor taking her seat on the Supreme Court. Yesterday was the two-year anniversary of Elena Kagan taking her seat on the Supreme Court. So let's be very clear -- the next President could tip the balance of the Court in a way that turns back the clock for women and families for decades to come. The choice between going backward and moving forward has never been so clear.
People For president Michael Keegan also laid out the stakes in the Huffington Post.
President Obama’s decisions to nominate Justices Kagan and Sotomayor prove his commitment to selecting qualified jurists and building a more representative and inclusive court that respects the Constitution and the rights of every American. Mitt Romney’s decision to turn to ultra-conservative judge Robert Bork for judicial counsel is a clear signal that he would only appoint far-right figures to the Supreme Court, judges that are even further to the right than Samuel Alito and Antonin Scalia.
It’s difficult to imagine a more conservative court than the one we have now, but that’s exactly what a Romney presidency would bring. With critical issues such as reproductive rights, voting rights, LGBT rights, campaign finance, and worker protections almost certain to come before the court next presidential term, stakes have never been higher.
For more on Mitt Romney’s dangerous vision for the Supreme Court, visit Romneycourt.com.
Yesterday, PFAW avtivists were featured on Ohio Public Radio:
and Ohio Capital Blog:
We are continuing to roll out our new Young Elected Progressives candidates this week with three more candidates under the age of 35. Today we are introducing you to Bret Binder (PA), Will Sylianteng (PA), and Sarah Gillooly (MO).
Bret Binder is running for the Pennsylvania House of Representatives in the 156th district. Binder is currently an attorney and small business owner. He founded Binder & Canno, LLC and is part owner of Pudding Lane Brookline, a gourmet rice pudding emporium. He also played important roles with multiple real estate companies, including being the general partner of Seamazing, LLC. Prior to the creation of his law firm, Binder was a law clerk to Justice Sandra Schultz Newman of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. He hopes to use this background while in the state legislature to fight back against the recent Voter ID law and will promote the importance of public education to the leaders in Harrisburg. Visit his website here.
Will Sylianteng is running to represent the 151st district in the Pennsylvania House. He currently practices law in Blue Bell, PA and has chaired the Montgomery County Bar Association’s Diversity Committee as well as being the vice-chair of its Civil Practice Committee. Additionally, Sylianteng volunteers to teach a 6th grade Civics and the Law class at a local school. He has received several awards since he began practicing law, including being named a SuperLawyer Rising Star, Lawyer on the Fast Track and Pennsylvania Diversity Attorney of the Year. If elected, Sylianteng will become the first Asian-American to be elected to the Pennsylvania legislature. Visit his website here.
Sarah Gillooly is running for Missouri House of Representatives in the 24th district. She is a progressive champion who has put forth great time and effort into the fight for equality. She worked for Missouri’s LGBTQ organization, PROMO, and serves Missouri and Kansas women in the battle for equal health benefits. Gillooly has dedicated herself to furthering the civil rights agenda through activities that have pushed for protection of federal family planning funds, the promotion of public education, and adding gender identity to the Kansas City Human Rights Ordinance. Visit her website here.